Most of my online competition has come from first-person-shooters. Either solo or with a team of friends, we’ll drop in and shoot, explode, capture objectives in an often sea of chaos against named but forgettable opponents from around the world. Fighting games are much more of a secluded and personal affair though. Often one-on-one, you have a greater connection your opponent and their actions, rather than a far flung bullet from across a map by one of twelve individuals.
I don’t have much experience with fighting games. I’ve played some Street Fighter matches, Mortal Kombat, but never for very long. It would turn out that people are generally much, much better than me and frustration kicks in fairly quickly due to lack of ability, lack of knowledge (some have a LOT of nuances to learn to even begin to be competitive) or both. Earlier last year I picked up EA’s UFC 2. Typically I’m more a fan of wrestling games but they don’t (in my opinion) translate well to the videogame genre in terms of replicating the pace and psychology of the real world product. UFC however seemed to do just that, requiring skill, tactics, pace, thought as well as timing and an understanding of moves.
I didn’t gravitate towards it at first. In fact I had rented it and quickly sent it back. I’m not sure why, months later I decided to try again but it turns out, I love it. After ripping through career mode a few times, I tried online play. This is where the game came into its own.
UFC is always one versus one. For those that don’t know, you are inside an octagonal cage with another fighter and you win on either points (after three rounds), by submitting your opponent or getting the referee to stop the fight as they are no longer able to intelligently defend themselves. The game does an incredible job of replicating this, and as I ventured online I found that the netcode is mostly seamless, and real world people play very differently to the AI.
Whether I was playing ranked matches, or EA’s Ultimate Team (where you collect cards to level up a created fighter, and complete for better upgrades over time) I quickly found myself invested. Real opponents had their own strategies, their own preferences and gaps in their game quickly became visible. Learning to exploit these, I rose the ranks and have now, after months become positioned at an appropriate skill platform where most battles are closely matched affairs.
Irrespective of whether you like the game or not, what amazes me most is not the quality of the game, but the people who play it. When you start a round, you have the option to touch gloves, as a sign of respect. Sometimes people don’t. What I started to find was that the more I’d compete against them, over the course of a match I could ‘earn’ their respect, with a glove touch offered for the final round. These instances (or even ones with frequent glove touching) would result in a quick message through PSN afterwards – “gg”. Effort was taken to congratulate or commiserate a fellow warrior for a solid battle. I’d start to initiate this; “Great fight, I got really lucky there you did really well” which would frequently result in short chats. Sometimes the matchmaking would let itself down and I’d be hugely outclassed – reaching out instead to show my respects and ask for any tips, which would often come back. If I found myself on the winning side easily, I’d send out my thanks for seeing the fight out, and offer some suggestions for improving their game (if on checking their character I could see they were new to it).
Instead of my usual frustration with fighting games (at not being good, poor connection etc) it would turn to those playing dishonourably. What if, someone offered to touch gloves but when you got close, jumped and kicked you in the face. Bad show. I’d turn all my attention towards destroying this person in as graphic fashion as I could muster. Follow up messages would suggest they show appropriate respect in future. I don’t know why it began to bother me so much. But I wondered, could other games illicit such a show of mutual respect?
Recently, I picked up For Honor, Ubisoft’s samurai/knight/Viking battler. Despite its moba-esque vibes, it is in essence a fighting game. During a fight, you can win by killing your opponent, but also by knocking them off ledges to fall to their doom. Upon beating them, you can execute them – a brutal animation considered dishonourable by the game. I wondered, could people fight honourably in For Honor. Would they?
Pushing someone off a ledge is an easy win. Probably why it’s dishonourable. In a game, I get the mentally to win by any means necessary, yet when you’re the victim of this, it doesn’t stop feeling cheap. As I would play more one versus one matches, I would start to see people turn and run away at the start of a round. This didn’t feel very honourable. However, it turned out that folks were doing this to get away from the ledges so that we could fight to the death without any cheap tactics at play. Executions became less frequent too, and be saved for the final winning round, a confirmation that the victor is just that, and the other person is definitively finished.
In game quick-chat options would often end good matches with a ‘Good fight’, reciprocated by ‘Thanks’. Even some uses of ledge-pushing could result in a ‘Sorry’, an admission of guilt of the last-ditch effort summed to keep in the fight.
What I began to find even more interesting was in two versus two battles. As one fight would end, it becomes a handicapped battle but the winning team would have one teammate stand by to give their partner opportunity to win on their own, or the losing team chance to equalise the fight, and continue rather than ganging up for a quick and unbalanced end.
This dimension of these games isn’t conclusive for every battle you have. There are still cheese-tactics at play, there are still people screaming abuse down headsets and there are still fake glove-touching, or ledge-pushing. But these glimpses of honourable combat add to my investment in the game. They make me feel like I am part of something special, a moment shared between two individuals separated by potentially hundreds of miles and remembered for ‘that good match I had once with this American guy’. I’m interested to see how this develops within the community and those of other games, and if the developers will catch on to this and offer punishment/rewards or even incentives to play in certain ways. But for now, I remain an honourable fighter. Maybe.